Volkswagen, CHAdeMO, and Charging Equity

By Dave Laur

By now it is obvious that VW has used the punishment by the US Department of Justice for the diesel-gate scandal to benefit the company.

The most telling example of this didn’t happen in the US, it happened in Europe.  Tesla was forced by Germany to abandon its proprietary charging standard to create a CCS compatible adapter to continue marketing their cars in Germany. This created an extra expense for Tesla to create an adapter that’s only usable in the EU as the North America uses a different version of CCS. The smarter choice would have been to simply use Tesla’s CHAdeMO adapter since it is a product Tesla already has and it works everywhere in the world. That didn’t happen and the European action has given the false impression that CHAdeMO’s second largest customer was abandoning the technology.

Tesla’s mass-market EV, the Model 3, can only use a CHAdeMO adapter to charge at non-Tesla charging stations in North America despite its use of CCS in Europe. Tesla sold 112,000 Model 3s through September 2019.

Even if manufacturers switched from CHAdeMO to CCS today, EVs using the CHAdeMO standard will be on the road for another decade.

CHAdeMO enabled EVs have been out on the market longer than those using CCS. These cars have smaller and more degraded batteries than newer CCS enabled EVs, requiring more frequent charging stops. Nissan alone has put more than 130,000 EVs on the road in the US.

But EA’s format of zero “dedicated” CHAdeMO dispensers makes relying on one to be available when a driver needs it a dicey proposition that many are not willing to consider.

Last summer (2018) when the first EA stations were powered up, social media had several posters with pictures of their EVs enjoying one of the first charges from the brand new locations. Within a month, I counted four Bolts charging at the combination CCS-CHAdeMO dispenser, meaning a CHAdeMO enabled EV would have to wait while all the other kiosks sat idle. In all four cases, the Bolt driver simply took the dispenser closest to the store. This is indicative that EA has done little (actually nothing) to educate drivers to use the combination station only when all the other stations are occupied.

I have been driving LEAFs since January 2011 and the pitfalls of a single plug in a location are very well known to me. Both Blink and Webasto (Formerly Aerovironment) have single DCFCs that can simply be broken or more likely in use. Now there are great apps for monitoring whether the station in question is operational but few that indicate when the station will be available or how long the station has been occupied. This makes trip planning difficult especially if few alternative stations are within one’s range. But both those networks were built before CCS even existed. Since then, nearly every network has installed the dual format stations with both CCS and CHAdeMO on each kiosk. Not only does this make the location more reliable for EVers of both standards, it maximizes utilization for the location which results in greater revenue for the vendors. This also better reflects the real level of demand in the area which hopefully leads to more expansion to cover that need. With single kiosk stations, we can only guess how many times they were passed up due to the risk of finding the station in use. 

Finally, the real issue is the development of the EA network by VW is supposed to be punishment for a crime. But VW has turned it into a probable benefit for them. They were supposed to create a network that allowed “equal access” to all protocols and they have failed to do so. Their excuse is that they are building a network that will meet the needs of the future is laughable. In reality, they are tipping the landscape towards their products most of which have yet to see the light of day. VW cannot be allowed to continue on their current path.

I do realize that some CCS cars now charge at much higher power levels than in the past. One new entrant can charge up to 350 KW. So having a combo CCS/CHAdeMO at every dispenser will reduce the charging options of the EVs that can use that higher rate. It would be reasonable for all EA stations at least four dispensers have both charging standards. This doubles the chance that a CHAdeMO-enabled EV would be able to charge quickly and efficiently. Remaining dispensers could serve only CCS-enabled EVs.

In the current political climate it’s highly unlikely that Washington will step in and pressure EA to become more equitable in its station design. So I look to you California to get VW and EA back in line. You have been the environmental leader of this country for decades and I think you will agree that VW, while possibly complying with the letter of its consent decree, is not complying with the intent of the judgment against them.

Dave Laur is an early Leaf adopter in Olympia, Washington. He comments frequently on the Nissan Leaf and EVs in general at My Nissan as DaveinOlyWA and has published his own blog on electric vehicles, DaveinOlyWA, since 2012.